Archive | June 2013

Privacy Concerns and the Next Gen: NSA Data Collection and How it Effects Gamers

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As you probably heard a couple of days ago, the federal government has been scouring Verizon’s phone records for years. Articles written by the Washington Post and Guardian and posted yesterday further accuse the NSA of collecting data from Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, Apple, and Microsoft. The data that is scoured includes e-mail, video and voice chat, photos, videos, VoIP conversations, file transfers, whatever you post on a social network, and these providers do accommodate special requests. (Source)

I encourage everyone to read over the articles and come back full of anger and fear, but I will try to make a case and voice concern over this information as best as I can in the case that you don’t.

As you may have noticed, I made sure to draw your attention to Skype and Microsoft being partners in the NSA’s collection program. Skype is actually owned and controlled by Microsoft so the separation in the article regarding data collection is a bit of a moot point, except that Microsoft clearly wants to use Skype as a platform of connecting living rooms across the world. Microsoft clearly presented this at their Xbox One Announcement event.

Ironically, Microsoft gave us a post about the Xbox One and the topic of privacy in the same afternoon that the Washington Post and Guardian articles were released. The dump of Xbox One information certainly turned my head away from the NSA story initially, but as I thought about the future generation of console hardware, I started to become more and more concerned about what data is going to the NSA, and the fact that the NSA has direct access to each of these companies’ servers.

Microsoft had a small push trying to let us know that “Your Privacy is Our Priority” earlier this year and created (almost hysterical) video content including the following TV ad to support their claim.

Now that you’ve watched that video, let me also mention that Microsoft was the first partner of the NSA, with data collection beginning in December of 2007.

Microsoft’s information about privacy on the Xbox One seems to align with their video material, and they go out of their way to tell us that if you are just talking in your living room with the Xbox One on, your conversation is not being recorded or uploaded. It is, however, listening. The Xbox One will always have to listen for key words and phrases when active, and while your privacy settings may not allow the Xbox One to hold onto your data, the device needs an Internet connection to function. If Sony hasn’t already proven this, anything connected to the Internet is open game for hackers.

The Xbox One is built on a Windows 8 kernel, which will likely make it easier for hackers to “crack” the console OS. This means that if there is a security flaw in Windows 8, it is likely that it will be an issue in the Xbox One’s OS as well due to the familiar architecture. If one of the exploits is with system devices (camera’s), and it can be translated to the Kinect, how many of our living rooms will be exposed until Microsoft is able to correct the security flaw?

Skype is a similar but slightly different issue. With every video, voice, and text chat possibly being scoured by the government, how much of our conversations with friends will be sectioned off and filtered to the NSA? What are the triggers? If there is a mention of the President by name, will a user need to worry about who is listening to Skype conversations for the next 6 months? Skype is not mentioned at all in Microsoft’s post about Xbox One privacy, and as a separate app, will have separate terms and agreements that may allow it to collect data differently than how Microsoft tells us the Kinect will collect data unless Microsoft specifically forbids it at an application level.

Sony has been pretty quiet on the privacy aspect for the PS4 thusfar. Although it was clear at their PS4 announcement that they were pretty excited about the ability to use your personal information for your profile, the ability to share posts and videos onto Facebook, and the ability to access your profile and games from anywhere using the Vita. What we’re looking at with Sony is using your real name, posting your game information and video to your personal Facebook (which is one of the companies that the NSA scours data from), and then being able to collect data from your mobile connection (Verizon WiFi hotspot, anyone?) while you’re away from home. When compounded, it gets a whole hell of a lot scarier.

What all of this may accomplish indirectly is making the teenage “hate-mongers” lose the idea of anonymity on Xbox Live and the Playstation Network, and could potentially bring some of the people who stopped playing games online back for a while.

If you have an opinion about this, please feel free to leave a comment. I’ve probably missed a dozen things that I wanted to say in all of my “sourcing” of articles, but I feel this needs to be discussed because these next gen consoles are starting to look pretty scary.

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UPDATE: Major Nelson Denies eSRAM Issue

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Major Nelson replied to a tweet sent to him yesterday evening regarding the Xbox One eSRAM issues by denying the rumors that Microsoft was downclocking the GPU due to issues with the eSRAM on the console.

I’m taking this post from Microsoft’s Major Nelson relatively seriously because of the fact that normally Microsoft uses a canned, “…does not comment on rumor and speculation,” response to most things of this sort. It seems that in this specific situation, Larry Hryb has enough certainty that this is not an issue and he is able to deny the rumor outright.

This is the first confirmation from a leading public figure at Microsoft that maybe the eSRAM is not the issue that has been described on several (though not necessarily credible) online sources, or that the issue has already been resolved.

Here’s hoping…

Source

Microsoft’s Worst Day

 

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Microsoft went ahead and released a royal crapton of “bad news” today – most likely in an effort to get this information out so they won’t need address it on stage at E3.

I’m going to run through the items and give pretty brief descriptions, and then I’ll make sure that there are some additional links if you want to read on elsewhere.

The Games (Licensing, New Games, Policies):

  • You will be able to purchase your games in a brick and mortar store, or directly online.
  • You will be able to access your games from ANY Xbox One console (you will need to sign in and install the game to that hardware in order to play)
  • Anyone in your home on your console will be able to play games, regardless of whether they also own a copy of the game or not.
  • You can give your family access to your games so they can play them on any Xbox One console once they log in and install the game on that hardware.
  • You can sell your disk-based game to second-hand retailers – as long as the publisher has allowed the capability.
  • You can give your games to an Xbox Live friend as long as you have been friends with them for more than 30 days. This game license can only be transferred once.

Microsoft’s page on this topic.

The Connectivity (Suggested Speed, Cloud, Internet Access, Power):

  • Xbox One will require a broadband Internet connection (insert ‘cloud’ buzzword here).
  • The Xbox One will have a low-power state. It will always be “on” in order to receive updates and to be available when you want to use it.
  • Skype is very integrated.
  • Wireless ready out of the box via 802.11n.
  • It will connect with your personal wireless devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.).
  • Is cloud-powered (Look! We used the buzz word again!)
  • Minimum connection speed of 1.5mbps is suggested. You will be able to use mobile broadband services.
  • You will be able to game offline for up to 24 hours on your primary console, but only for 1 hour on a console away from home so it can check in on you.

Microsoft’s page on this topic.

Privacy and Kinect:

  • The console and the Kinect will have privacy settings.
  • You can turn the Kinect off.
  • The console will collect game data, but it will not be shared unless you allow it to be.
  • You don’t HAVE to use the Kinect for the TV, Blu-ray, or apps.

Microsoft’s page on this topic.

Rumor also has it that Microsoft has been cancelling 1 on 1 meetings with games journalists this week, and has apparently also cancelled a roundtable that was to take place after the E3 conference. Major Nelson defended the company as some of the journalists Tweeted complaints. Hopefully, this isn’t just sidestepping to avoid the debacle that answering questions became at the Xbox One announcement event in May.

 

So there’s the info. Chew on it. Talk about it.

KONAMI’s Pre-E3 Show: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Kiefer Sutherland, David Hayter, and more

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Today, Konami released a video outlining some of the upcoming titles for various platforms over the next year. During the first 7 minutes, they show some of the family-friendly and mobile games. This is followed by coverage of Pro Evolution Soccer and the game’s new engine (if PES is your thing, this section was for you).

Then Konami got to the juicy stuff, and the real reason anyone was watching – Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. If you would prefer to watch the content over having me explain the details, scroll down to the video below and skip ahead to the 10m 30s mark.

It turns out that David Hayter will NOT be returning as the voice of Solid Snake, and will be replaced by “24” actor Kiefer Sutherland. Kiefer and Hideo Kojima banter about how exciting it is to be working with one another, and then discuss some details about the game. The game will take place in 1984, when snake is 49 year old, and this prompted the change to the voice actor – according to Kojima.

Hayter had a little bit to say about this, and shared his thoughts on Twitter just after the Konami video had been posted:

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“Like New Coke!” — Well, I guess Hayter’s gotta Hate.

Once everyone had the chance to state their opinions about one another and share excitement back and forth, the video moved on to cover Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, which must have about the longest fricking video game trailer that I’ve ever seen (catch that from 19m 35s –  25m 55s). It’s dark and looks like a Castlevania game, and at one point includes what must be the pussiest vampire scream of all time.

Enjoy the video for yourself if you wish, it’s right below here!

RUMOR: Microsoft will downclock the GPU on Xbox One

A thread over at NeoGAF that has been up and running now for about 24 hours claims that Microsoft is having issues with the eSRAM yield on the Xbox One, and that this has resulted in Microsoft needing to downclock the GPU.

While I’ll be the first to admit that I can barely make sense of all of the commotion on the thread, there are a couple of explanations that I can understand to some extent, specifically:

(originally posted by thuway on NeoGAF)

For everyone asking- this information is all pretty recent. Around the PlayStation Meeting the Xbox One was way behind (OS + hardware). Engineers were scrambling to get things sorted out.

It turns out, they didn’t sort it out. The OS you saw was a complete and total lie. The current plan is to get the yields up, lower the clock rate, and to have enough units out for a sell out in the Fall.

For those asking how this affects performance- to be perfectly frank; it is nothing turning down features won’t solve. The mass market will never notice a difference between 1080p and 900p; neither will they care about dynamic shadows / global illumination / or tesselation. Go to your PC – and turn shadows from Ultra to medium, disable tesselation, and lower the resolution to 900p; and you’ll find games run totally fine.

Microsoft is purely behind and it’s now time to make drastic decisions. I don’t think any one is happy about the lower clocks, but no one is depressed about it either. The Xbox One is an all-in-on device; and that’s how it will be marketed.

I really found this post by eloj on GiantBomb incredibly informative, even though it is only someone guessing:

There’s a rumor that Microsoft are having problems with the XBone. There’s been rumors before that they’re behind on software, but these latest rumors pertain specifically to the hardware and the combination of eSRAM and GPU. The rumor is saying that they’re having yield problems, specifically related to the eSRAM.

I will now go on and speculate widely. You have been warned.

It is claimed that the XBone APU is a one-die CPU+GPU+eSRAM solution, meaning that it’s very large (~410mm^2). The only thing MS really said at their reveal was “5 billion transistors”. This is interesting, and some correctly pointed out that it probably meant they couldn’t compete with the PS4 on specs, because if they could, they’d be more specific.

The primary risk with large dies of course are low yields, resulting in higher costs to get enough dies that meet your specification. Now, Microsoft was not building a gaming machine first. They wanted to load a familiar operating system on there. They wanted more focus on applications that historically have not been heavily optimized for one platform. A relatively fat OS, and applications from developers who are not used to the scant resources typically awarded a gaming console, leads to one design conclusion; “we need lots of memory!”

So they design for 8GB, from the start. Again, they put applications (and cost) above gaming, and go for a well known, cheap, plentiful technology in DDR3. Back then 8GB of GDDR5 would look too expensive, almost insane, and DDR4 wasn’t on the immediate horizon.

To compensate the gaming side, they now need some fast RAM, hence 32MB eSRAM on-die. The XBone eSRAM is said to be a 6T type, meaning that each bit requires six transistors. 32MB gives us 32*1024*1024*8 bits times six equals 1,610,612,736 transistors. That’s 1.6 billion, a huge chunk out of the total 5 billion!

They do desperately need this very fast cache-like memory to fix the fact that they’re using “slow” DDR3, which they settled on because they wanted to have a lot of it, for apps — not games.

Recap: Decision to not focus on games results in design for a lot of memory, which is “slow” for cost reasons, which is compensated with cache. Result: Large die, with large percentage dedicated to what turns out to be a possible problematic memory to fab. Because the cache use so much die, they have to scale down on GPU.

They’re reportedly roughly 2 billion transistors larger than the APU used by Sony in the PS4, which means worse thermals, which means lower clocks. The rumor is saying that the yields on this APU, due to the eSRAM, is so low, that they may have to cut the clocks on the eSRAM+GPU even further than what they’ve previously communicated to developers under NDA. This would make the XBone even weaker on the GPU side vs the PS4, which was already believed to be quite a bit stronger.

MS probably thought for the longest time, like PS4 devs did, that the PS4 would only have 4GB of GDDR5. Microsoft could work with that, they’d have the fast cache (which no doubt can be awesome when properly used — I’m a huge cache nerd) and more total memory. They designed their system around being the platform with More Memory.

Cerny meanwhile had bet on GDDR5, and his bet has been that availability will increase and cost decrease at such a pace, that even back when they were first thinking about the PS4 and 2GB seemed like ample amounts, as time went on 4GB became viable.. and then at the last second… tick. Out of nowhere Sony steps up on stage and announce that they’ll be using 8GB of GDDR5, twice the amount insiders thought for sure.

And they probably did this to match Microsoft, which has now lost their one advantage in specification. They on their parts are left having to pay the price of designing for apps before games, and that price just went up if this rumor is true.

Now, this is all speculative right now. With E3 coming next week, we may be able to piece together some additional information based on Microsoft’s response to the tech spec questions regarding the Xbox One. If there’s dancing, there’s almost certainly accuracy in these rumors that Microsoft will want to avoid discussing.

Sony’s E3 2013 Promo Trailer, Details

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Not to be outdone by Microsoft, Sony launched a trailer today via the Playstation blog that shows what we should expect from their press conference at E3 this year.

Sony’s coverage will kick off on Monday, June 10 at 5:30pm Pacific/8:30pm Eastern and will be followed up with three additional days of E3 coverage. Here’s their the full online schedule:

  • Monday, June 10th | PlayStation E3 2013 Press Conference | 5:30pm Pacific Time
  • Tuesday, June 11th | PlayStation LiveCast show | 12:00pm to 6:00pm Pacific Time
  • Wednesday, June 12th | PlayStation LiveCast show | 10:00am to 6:00pm Pacific Time
  • Thursday, June 13th | PlayStation LiveCast show | 10:00am to 6:00pm Pacific Time

That is a LOT of coverage.

They also left a nice short-list of games that they will cover at the press conference. The games that they wanted us to know they were talking about this year are:

“Beyond: Two Souls from Quantic Dream, Destiny from Bungie, DriveClub from Evolution Studios, The Evil Within from Tango GameWorks, Gran Turismo 6 from Polyphony Digital, inFAMOUS: Second Son from Sucker Punch Productions, Killzone: Shadow Fall and Killzone Mercenary from Guerrilla Games, The Last of Us from Naughty Dog, Tearaway from Media Molecule, Wolfenstein: The New Order from MachineGames and many, many more.”

I’ll cover as much as I can from here!

Call of Duty: Ghosts Pre-E3 Preview Event

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Geoff Keighley (of GameTrailers.com and GTTV on Spike) will be hosting a 30-minute preview event for Activision’s upcoming first person shooter, Call of Duty: Ghosts on Sunday, June 9, at 11am PT.

The event will stream at callofduty.com and on the Xbox 360’s Machinima app.